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Super Bowl Synch Report: Sony Leads Publishers as Marketers Tap Feel-Good Tracks, ’90s Nostalgia

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Uber Eats’ commercial featuring Diddy, Montell Jordan, “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?),” the guy who sings “What Is Love,” an oddly-timed haircut and two pineapples may be the first clue that Super Bowl ads are going lighter in 2023 — a pattern reflected in the music synchs for the big game.

After three years of the pandemic, Jordan’s 1995 smash “This Is How We Do It” and Kelis’ 2003 hit “Milkshake,” both Universal Music Publishing Group synchs used in the Uber Eats spot, represent a shift from apocalyptic and inspirational Super Bowl commercials and soundtracks starring old-timey crooners and string sections to familiar, upbeat hits and plentiful comedy.

“Humor remains the dominant theme this year,” says Tom Eaton, senior vp of music for advertising for UMPG, which represents the Jordan and Kelis tracks and suggested them to the brand’s music supervisors. “There have been a few sentimental commercials, but the vast majority have trended towards humor — and music can be such an important aspect of creating that mood.”

“I haven’t seen that heightened seriousness, which I think is a good thing,” adds Keith D’Arcy, senior vp of sync and creative services for Warner Chappell Music, whose synchs at this year’s Super Bowl include DMX‘s “What’s My Name,” for a Downy spot starring Danny McBride. “The country is in a good place where we’re more inclined to want to laugh and celebrate.”

That means lots of feel-good tracks, many of which were released in the ‘90s – from “What’s My Name” and “This is How We Do It” to a Clueless throwback ad for Rakuten starring Alicia Silverstone and Supergrass‘ 1995 U.K. hit “Alright.” The ’90s trend may have begun last year with Doja Cat‘s cover of Hole‘s “Celebrity Skin” for Taco Bell, says Rob Christensen, executive vp and head of global synch for Kobalt, whose lone synch this year is soul singer Lee Fields’ “Forever” for pet-food brand The Farmer’s Dog. “The ’90s are back,” he says. “That seems to be around pop culture everywhere right now.”

“It’s cyclical,” adds Scott Cresto, executive vp of synchronization and marketing for Reservoir Media, which has three synchs, including a Pringles spot with Meghan Trainor singing Tina Turner‘s “The Best.” “Most folks’ favorite music is from [ages] 13 to 30. They’re down the line in their careers and making the decisions and picking their favorite songs.”

Although not all final synch tallies for nationally televised spots were available at press time — publishing execs say permissions and requests for songs were unusually late this year, including a rush job that came in from an agency this past Monday — Sony Music Publishing (SMP) scored the most with 15, UMPG had seven, Warner Chappell Music had six or seven, BMG landed five, Primary Wave and Reservoir had three apiece and Kobalt had one. 

Despite inflation, layoffs, high interest rates and sporadic recession talk, synch rates were stable this year, according to publishers. “It’s in line with past Super Bowl campaigns,” says Marty Silverstone, partner/senior vp creative/head of synch for Primary Wave, whose synchs include Missy Elliott‘s “We Run This” for Google Pixel. Adds Dan Rosenbaum, vp of licensing and advertising, for BMG, whose synchs include Supergrass’ “Alright” and co-writes for Turner’s “The Best” and Elliott’s “We Run This”: “Recognizability is so important in commercial usage. If that song is going to work for them, they’ll pay the price.” 

Super Bowl LVII is the first since Kate Bush‘s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” landed on Stranger Things in May 2022, became a No. 1 hit and unexpectedly dominated the synch business. Do publishers believe the big game, for which 30-second ads cost a reported $7 million, will have a similar impact for their songs? Yes and no.

“That Kate Bush song wasn’t well-known and the show blew it up. On the Super Bowl, they play it a little more safe by using more tried-and-true hits,” says Brian Monaco, president/global chief marketing officer for SMP, which represents Len‘s “Steal My Sunshine” (for a Sam Adams spot), Sarah McLachlan‘s “Angel” (Busch) and Olivia Rodrigo‘s “Good 4 U” (Pepsi). “On a TV show, it’s a little easier, because the fees are lower. If it doesn’t work, you’re on to the next one.”

Despite SMP’s success at landing Super Bowl synchs this year, Monaco’s staff was unable to successfully pitch one key artist: Bruce Springsteen, who sold his music rights to the company for a reported $550 million in 2021. “It just didn’t fit,” he says, while noting that even for a superstar like Springsteen, getting a Super Bowl synch is a coveted career highlight: “Everyone’s hope — every writer, every artist — is the Super Bowl platform. We need more big events like this to get more music played.”

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